Arrow – Season 4 Episode 18
Arrow says goodbye to a cast member and finally answers the long standing question of who ends up in the grave that we have seen in flash forward scenes before this point.
The question of who dies has been hanging over the show all season and has provided the writers with endless opportunities to drop hints as to who that might be. Oliver was immediately ruled out as he was standing at the grave and later Felicity was proven safe by her appearance in a reprise of the flash forward scene. I’ve personally had a few theories since the beginning but I never thought that it would be Felicity simply because that one was too obvious but I was absolutely convinced that it would be Thea based on the work being done to dissolve her relationship with Malcolm and start building him as a villainous presence in the show again. It just made the most dramatic sense to me and if Malcolm was the one to kill her then it places him as the major antagonist for the fifth season of the show.
Alas, I was wrong and it was Laurel who met her end. I didn’t see that coming because I never felt that the character was important enough to have the impact that was promised by the death. There was an implication that it was someone Barry would know pretty well to justify how upset he was. Thea doesn’t fit that bill either but I think Barry has interacted with her more than he has with Laurel. I guess the grief apparent on his face was more sympathy for what Oliver is feeling rather than his own deep sense of loss.
Putting all of that aside, the real question is around whether the death was done well and if it mattered. I would say yes on both counts. Whether her role has been significant or not, Laurel has been around since the first episode of the show so she is a character who is part of the furniture so to speak. The writers haven’t always known what to do with her and her motivation for doing certain things has been murky at various points but she has always been here and always so is important from that perspective.
I really wish I hadn’t known that a death was coming in this episode as I figured out that it would be Laurel pretty early on. It was so heavily foreshadowed by the huge changes that were about to go on in her life. She was offered the job as Star City’s District Attorney, Oliver urged her to take it and give up being Black Canary because Star City needs a hero without a mask who can do good within the boundaries of the law, her father reminds her how proud he is for her and how wonderful she is and she even said the words “one last time” before going into action. It really was heavily signposted even if the knowledge of a character death wasn’t previously known.
It’s not really the fault of the episode as such because a character leaving the show absolutely should get a proper send off and that is exactly what Laurel got. I feel like the flashforward in the first episode of the season was a ploy by the production team to make people excited about Arrow again after the fairly negative reception that the end of season 3 got so this wasn’t foreshadowed for dramatic reasons, at least as far as I can tell. Apparently the death wasn’t decided when the flashforward was filmed so that backs up what I have said. Even if this was decided later then that gave the writers plenty of time to really make it count. Laurel could have been made a more significant character across the season and could even have developed a friendship with Barry during the crossover to give him a reason to appear personally affected by the loss. This could have been an opportunity that the writers have failed to capitalise on.
I imagine if the death hadn’t been foreshadowed and it had otherwise been kept a secret from the internet then the whole thing would have been a bit of a shock. The signposting would have been obvious in hindsight but I might not have seen it coming right away.
The scenes themselves were very well done as Laurel went on a tour of her role within the show and her relationship with the other characters. Her friendship with Thea is perhaps the strongest as Laurel has taken her under her wing in a lot of ways and helped her through a lot of issues so having them spend time together even if it wasn’t peppered with meaningful discussions about how close they are was good to see. Sometimes it’s better not to have characters talk about what they mean to one another as it becomes obvious by the way they simply interact. This is true of Laurel and Thea who come across as such natural friends that none of that is needed.
I’ve already mentioned her conversation with Quentin where he reminds her how great she is. It’s a good scene because Paul Blackthorne always nails his performances and has such easy chemistry with every member of the cast that he can make anything work. In this case he comes across as a father who is proud of his daughter and offering her advice on how she should take the next step in her career and her life.
Having the episode focus on Laurel wrestling with the decision she has to make about becoming Star City’s District Attorney grounds it all in a really effective way. It all comes down to a simple choice that she has to make that will have a profound effect on who she is in the future. It’s a tough decision as there’s the usual thrill-seeking appeal to her life as a costumed vigilante but being the DA for Star City offers far more opportunity to be responsible for real positive changes for the city. It seems that she couldn’t be both so a choice has to be made.
Her conversation with Oliver that touches on her reasons for becoming the Black Canary in the first place works really well. Oliver reminds her that she initially became the Black Canary as a way to channel her grief and honour her sister but now that Sara is no longer dead then her motivation has become invalid. It’s a solid argument and it does suggest that Laurel is only really in this for the thrill she gets from risking her life to help others which may not be the best reason to carry on.
I found the way the death was handled to be a little confusing. The Doctor made a point of saying that Laurel was going to be fine and then she made the promise to the rest of the team that she would continue to be a member so it started to seem like the death was a bit of a red herring, at least from Laurel’s perspective. This changed when she had a scene with Oliver where she was clearly saying goodbye and had him make a promise that we don’t see before she takes a turn for the worst and dies.
There was an effective sense of tragedy to the whole situation as the team gathered triumphantly around her bedside to lend their support before returning to mourn her loss. The cast all played the raw emotion associated with the sudden death perfectly with particular attention to be given to Paul Blackthorne who makes it seem as if Quentin has been completely broken by this. He has had to deal with losing the same daughter twice and now has to deal with the loss of the other one so I’m guessing he will be in a really dark place for a long time after this. This scene really showed how close these characters are to one another and how this loss will affect them as a group and on an individual level.
The whole secret promise idea is a bit iffy as it suggests that there is more going on here than we think. Since the death happened just after the promise does that mean that Oliver is participating in Laurel faking her death or did he assist her with suicide for some unknown reason? Neither possibility is an attractive one because the whole idea of keeping secrets is becoming tiresome and considering the amount of lying that has been done to Quentin around his daughters this could possibly be the worst thing that Oliver could agree to. If he is participating in a misdirection that has Laurel alive this whole time then the character can’t be redeemed from that. There’s a very real possibility that Quentin could have a heart attack from all the stress and emotional turmoil this causes him so Oliver keeping that sort of information from him as well as the rest of the team would make him a terrible and selfish person. I really hope they don’t go down this route and let the death retain the impact that it already has.
I also don’t accept that Laurel considers Oliver to be the love of her life considering they haven’t been in a relationship since before his time on the island. Fair enough the only other relationship we have seen her in is a brief one with Tommy in season 1 but I don’t really buy Oliver being the love of her life because they have never been presented this way before. Katie Cassidy’s performance did seem sincere but it still didn’t come across as believable.
Oliver’s motivation has been pretty inconsistent over the past few weeks. Last week he was talking about how content he was leaving the live of a vigilante behind and this week he suddenly tells everyone that the man who came back from the island is who he is now and there’s nothing he can do to get away from that. He can’t give up being Green Arrow because he doesn’t know how to be anything else which differs from Laurel who no longer has to channel any grief. It does make sense for Oliver but it doesn’t measure up with other things he has said recently.
This episode marks the end of Thea’s father/daughter relationship with Malcolm. There is a big deal made of the fact that she no longer thinks of him as her father and her willingness to fight him. Part of me did think that Malcolm was going to be the one to kill her but it is made clear that he still wants to protect her even if she hates him. Thea does seem to be gunning for him in a big way so I wonder what the payoff on this will be.
Malcolm has been inconsistent lately as well as I got the impression he was becoming a significant part of H.I.V.E. but this loyalty he has from some former members of the League of Assassins has come from nowhere and doesn’t really make much sense. What difference would it make if he showed up with Ghosts as his henchmen rather than Ninjas other than the former making more sense?
A lot of these inconsistencies come from his relationship with Damien Darhk. Last week Malcolm was content to let him rot in prison as H.I.V.E. had turned their back on him but this week it’s all about getting him back and restoring his powers. Malcolm even said to him that Genesis would move on without him but now the deal is that Malcolm and Thea are spared from it. I feel like there is some plot missing here that explains what has changed.
Despite that, having Damien Darhk back at full power is a good move and he reminds us how much of a threat he is by casually stabbing Laurel with one of Oliver’s arrows with the instructions to deliver the message to Quentin that he is a man of his word. He promised Quentin that his daughter would die if Quentin betrayed him and he delivers on that promise without any hesitation. It’s brutal and shows that Darhk doesn’t value human life at all. The foreshadowing of the death when he presents Laurel with a carefully worded threat was a nice touch as well. He now knows Oliver’s identity which he should have worked out a while back but the way he put it together made sense as he sees the connection Laurel and Thea have to Green Arrow combined with the “father’s look” when he came to save William. This also increases his threat potential
Last week Andy was suggested as being still loyal to H.I.V.E. and the episode plays around with it this week. He tells Diggle about it near the beginning of the episode which suggests that he is going to act as a double agent for Team Arrow but his loyalties keep coming into question. He does a lot to prove that he isn’t working for Malcolm but Oliver sees right through it to the point that he threatens Andy.
This causes a lot of friction between Diggle and Oliver as they have differing opinions on if Andy can be trusted. Diggle says a lot of harsh things to Oliver around the sort of person he is and why Felicity left him. This exchange makes good use of the established friendship between Oliver and Diggle as knowing how close they are makes Diggle’s remarks all the more cutting. The fact that Oliver is proven right is no great surprise but Diggle has had to deal with the fact that his brother earned his trust and then betrayed it which shows that he isn’t as good a judge of character as he thinks he is. It clearly weighs on Diggle once it is revealed as him trusting his brother indirectly got Laurel killed since the betrayal resulted in Darhk getting his powers back. There’s plenty of blame to go around if people decide to start blaming themselves but this should be going through Diggle’s head for the rest of the season. I wonder if he will be forced to kill Andy. Whatever happens I look forward to what happens with Diggle in the coming episodes.
I found the flashbacks to be a lot better than they have been because there was actually some meaningful progression for a change. Most of the focus was on the battlefield bond between Oliver and Taiana. The scene where they discussed their photographs and made a deal to visit the family of the other if they both don’t make it was a great example of them being comrades. It also probably foreshadows her death by the end of the season. It’s a shame that this genuinely effective moment lacks impact because of how poor the flashback story has been throughout the season. The use of the idol in the flashbacks and in the present makes these scenes feel more connected to the overall story and more relevant as a result.
In a lot of ways this episode is exactly what Arrow should be. As far as I’m concerned the show is at its best when it embraces the character driven action/adventure roots and lets the characters evolve organically though the course of the events. Felicity’s significantly reduced presence in the episode was actually an asset here as it allowed everything to progress without any angst or baggage weighing it down. I’m not hating on Felicity but the use of her character since season 3 hasn’t worked for me so I’m at the point where things need to change or she needs to leave the show. I think she is a good character but needs to play to her strengths to work well and that hasn’t been happening lately. As a final point, Laurel will be missed. She hasn’t always been used well but she has been a good character for the most part and it’s especially heartbreaking that she was just starting to find a support role in the show that was definitely working.
A solid episode that delivers an effective send off for a key character. There are problems around the clumsy foreshadowing that are more of a problem for the season rather than the actual episode but it’s hard to ignore the fact that the writers have failed to capitalise on the opportunity to give this the full impact it deserves. Having Damien Darhk back to full power and reminding viewers of how big a threat he is by killing a main character was a nice touch and there is Andy’s betrayal of Diggle after earning his trust was really powerful. Everything is placed nicely for the rest of the season.
- an effective sendoff for a key character
- the reminder of how significant Damien Darhk is as a threat
- powerful performances from the entire cast
- inconsistencies with Oliver’s characterisation and Damien Darhk’s association with H.I.V.E.